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Archives: Volume 5 - Issue 31 - February 2004
2003/2004: Nov | Dec | Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr
Paracho, Michoacan - Guitar Capital of Mexico
by Catherine Krantz
February 2004

Paracho, –(Paaar-AAAH-cho)… or so said the street cop when I asked for directions in Uruapan and apparently horribly mispronounced it—, Michoacán, was once known for it’s mass produced guitars, a small town full of guitar factories. Now it is gaining recognition as home to some of the world’s best guitar makers.

Paracho has been “the guitar town” of Mexico for going on a hundred years now. Some will tell you Paracho got its trade, the same way the villages around Lake Patzcuaro–about an hour away—got theirs, from the industriousness of Vasco de Quiroga, the much celebrated Spanish priest who came over in the 16th century dispersing Catholicism and economically viable craft skills to the natives of Michoacán. But I have it on good authority that the making of guitars was not an art even in Spain at so early a time, not surfacing until a few hundred years later. And “luthiers”, artisans who make guitars (and other stringed instruments), have not been in Mexico for more than a hundred years.

So how it all began is still a mystery.

Nonetheless, located about half an hour north or Uruapan on Highway 37, Paracho is the Guitar Capital of Mexico. With nearly 2,000 luthiers in Paracho, some 2nd or 3rd generation in their families, there are more guitar makers in the small town of Paracho (population 30,000) then in the whole of the United States.

Still home to many guitar factories, guitar making and its related industries are the economic force that sustain nearly half the town’s population. The streets or Parachos (and there are not that many) are all lined with guitar shops and driving down the main street in Paracho you will most likely see more guitars than you have anywhere else and at any other time in your life. Off the main streets there are even more guitar workshops, tucked down alleys, above shops and in the back rooms of houses, they say some of the best shops are very well hidden. Paracho hosts a guitar festival every year in August for performers and luthiers with a national competition. My first trip to Paracho a few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Mexico’s national champion of miniatures, palm sized guitars that were made from all the same ingredients and pieces as the full size, and fully functional just much much smaller. This past trip I had the chance to visit the work shop of Victor Hernandez Vasquez who has been building guitars for more than 40 years. His three children have also followed in his footsteps. In a small workshop at the back of the family’s home, the floor strewn with curly wood shavings, we spoke to son David Hernandez Baca about the process of guitar making. They export most of their guitars and have a retailer in the United States but do have an exhibition space at the Casa de Cultura in Paracho where they have some of their finest guitars for sale.

Lauded as producing the best acoustic sound anywhere, fine crafted Paracho guitars often require a several month wait to acquire. Taking as long as 70 hours of work to create by hand, a single luthier will usually make no more than 30 or 40 guitars a year, and depending on the specifications and the wood used they can cost as much as $10,000 US a piece outside of Mexico. It’s all about the wood, they say, and the wood is exotic, precious and often time in shortages. The finest instruments only use the highest end woods from: Africa, jacaranda from Brazil, spruce from Germany, rosewood from India or Palo Escrito rosewood, spruce or cedar from Canada, ebony from Cameroon or Ceylon ebony from Sri Lanka—a wood so hard it must be cut with metal working tools. As well as woods from right here in Mexico such as walnut or cypress. These are the woods that make up the pieces of a guitar, the backs, the fronts, the necks, the ornamentation... all a separate type of wood.

For a guitarist, Paracho is truly a shopper’s paradise with a plethora of guitars to choose from, from the remarkable bargain to the finest work of art from award winning masters. If you are not in the market for a guitar a trip to Paracho is worth it for the culture and education. The Center for the Investigation and Development of the Guitar/Centro para la Investigacion y Desarollo de la Guitarra is located about two blocks from the main plaza. It houses a fine guitar museum (open Mon.-Sat.), a school and a concert hall where they host free classical guitar concerts,(usually on the weekends, check while you are there.) Paracho’s Casa de la Cultura on the main plaza offers demonstrations, information, exhibits and studios showcasing high quality guitars. There are only a few hotels in Paracho. Uruapan, half an hour away has many more hotel options.

Getting there and away:

From Guadalajara it is 3-4 hours, from Morelia 2.5 hours, from Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo 3.5 hours. To get there from Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo just take the new toll road #37 north, through Uruapan, and keep going to Paracho. If you manage to get around Uruapan on the loop without getting lost in town –I applaud you, if not struggle through town ask for directions and try to pronounce it right, and then find your way to the north side of town and back to highway #37 on which you just head north of town and stay on it, through some very pretty mountainous scenery for about 30 minutes and then just when you think it can’t be any further, you’ll be there.

Buen Viaje !

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